The German ancestors, on my father’s side, were mainly a long line of farmers and butchers. My upbringing was frugal: likely due to being born the 7th child in a working class family of 14 children. Up until I was 7 we lived on a 105 acre farm, with my father commuting 30 miles to work in a large Cincinnati, OH machine shop. By the time we moved to the edge of Cincy I had already recovered from surgery to partially repair a 4 part congenital heart defect. During the summer of 1967 I underwent a second heart surgery to complete the repair. Out of necessity my sisters, brothers and I learned how to create something out of what better off people might consider next to nothing.
As a teenager I worked for 2 of the few remaining local vegetable farmers. These gentlemen were then in their early 80’s and had been peers of my grandfather on my dad’s side; whom I never knew. In 11th grade I enrolled at a start-up Joint Vocational School attending the Farm Management Program. We helped build much of the school farm that 1st year. The JVS (Joint Vocational School) was located 55 mils from my home. I lived in a dorm during the week, riding a school bus home on weekends. Most of my classmates were real farm boys who went on to careers in production agriculture. Toward the end of my junior year the Farm Management program instructor advised me that I would never be financially able to farm on my own. After begrudgingly accepting my instructors opinion I enrolled in the Meat Processing program, offered on the same campus, for my senior year. The Meat Processing program was housed in the abattoir of the decommissioned Air Force base, that the vocational school still partially occupies. Like my dad, my Meat Processing instructor was a Great Depression era youth and a World War II veteran. They both seemed to be “cut from tougher cloth” than what passes for normal today. Once during my senior year a wild-eyed heifer turned around in the abattoir’s unloading chute and slammed me and a gate up against the wall. I was able to climb over the 6 foot high pen rails and get safely into a holding pen. The heifer then proceeded to ram the pen rails, trying to get to me. Within a minute my instructor was on the scene, with a rifle in his hands, asking if I was OK. I was, but had a bruise running most of the length of my body from where the gate pinned me against the wall. The heifer was returned to the stockyards because she was so worked-up that the carcass she yielded would have been bruised and could well have been dark-cutting beef. Another time the same instructor took me to his home during the week for dinner. After I had grossly overeaten all the good food his wife had prepared he handed me a chainsaw to top-out a maple tree in his front yard. By coincidence, my former High school Meat Processing instructor was managing a small South Columbus, OH pork plant when I did a summer internship there during college. While there working the stunning and shackling station a freshly stunned market hog slipped out of the shackle, as it was being lifted to the sticking station, landing across my shoulders as I was dragging the next hog to the chain lift. Luckily, I was able to jump up and out of the stunning pen because the remaining hog may have started biting me if I was there in a horizontal position. I credit my father, the 2 vegetable farmers I worked for as a youth, my vocational school Meat Processing instructor, a great horticulture vegetable processing professor I had in college and my grandfather on my mother’s side for teaching me the value of getting jobs started and sticking with them until they are adequately completed.
Upon completion of High school I worked in a local butcher shop. The shop still had thick butcher blocks, sawdust on the floor and we broke beef from carcass quarters. Due to being financially impaired and having a repaired heart I qualified for financial aid to start college. Ohio State was the only in-state choice I had for agriculture so I started there in January of 1976. While at OSU I did work-study jobs as a janitor and later as an office assistant for the Dean of Admissions for the college of Agriculture. Also worked on the clean-up crew at a downtown Columbus wiener plant, then later as a meat clerk in a supermarket near campus. Was a Resident Advisor in an Agriculture/Natural Resources dormitory and later the House Manager in an Agricultural Fraternity. And, did 2 thee month long internships: 1 on a Union county OH dairy farm and another at a South Columbus pork plant. I managed to graduate from college after 4 years with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, dual majoring in Animal Science (Meats) and Vocational Agricultural Education (Ag. Products Processing). 1980 was an economically depressed time and also the year I got married. Consolidation of the meat industry and the one-stop-shopping trend were in full swing. Hundreds of small slaughter plants and thousands of local butcher shops were closing across the country. My wife and I moved back to Cincinnati, but I could only find work at a relative’s plumbing company. I kept looking for work in my field and found a Meat Processing teaching job during the 1981-82 school year at a JVS in Marion, OH. I completed the year, but the school lacked kill-floor facilities, so there was not enough to keep students busy, and my wife wanted to get back to working as a nurse in a bigger town hospital. Shortly after returning to Cincinnati for the second time I learned that my former vocational school Meat Processing instructor was now running a smorgasbord restaurant chain’s commissary on the near West side of Cincinnati. I got on there as a beef roast fabricator then later worked 2nd shift running the sanitation (clean-up) crew. In the Fall of 1984 I began working for a local start-up supermarket as a Meat clerk; that was the only way I could “get my foot in the door.” The original Smokehouse Manager quit within a month of the store opening so I applied for and got that job. The store’s sausage kitchen was equipped with a grinder, mixer, sausage stuffer and a one-truck smokehouse. I produced and packaged products during the week and helped cut meat on weekends. By the summer of 1988 my wife and I had obtained a construction loan to build a house. My supermarket meat department manager would not grant a leave of absence for me to work with my younger brother (a union trained carpenter) to build the house so I quit; paying myself from draws on the construction loan. My wife, myself and 2 young daughters moved into the basement of the house in December of 1988. The entire house was livable in early 1989. In April of 1989 I found work at a start-up Honey-Baked ham and wet-packaged corned beef plant located in the West end of Cincinnati. I started out supervising 2 moving trim lines then soon became Night Shift Plant Superintendent. I oversaw the operation of 2 large commercial smokehouses, frozen meat thawing, finished product packaging, a slicing room and plant sanitation. In late 1991 I quit working at that further processing plant to begin working intermittently for the USDA’s AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) doing school-lunch certification work at 2 Cincinnati area further processing meat plants. While working intermittently for the AMS I also worked as an intermittent employee for the USDA’s FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service), at a medium size local hog kill. During that time period I also provided child care at home and worked part time evenings as a fry-cook at a chain restaurant. In the March of 1996 I finally gained full time employment with the USDA’s AMS and began training to become a journeyman Meat Grader. On different occasions over the years I have provided either carcass grading or further processed product certification services for meat plants located from coast to coast. In 2007 I had a defibrillator/pacemaker implanted due to scar tissue on my heart from childhood surgeries. Up until 2012 I normally worked 2 weeks of 1st shift followed by 2 weeks of 2nd shift. I was getting up at 3:30 in the morning some weeks and going to bed about 3:30 in the morning on other weeks. In 2012 the Meat Grader’s union was able to install some seniority benefits so I now get 1st shift work on a permanent basis. I normally now only do school-lunch certification work at 2 Cincinnati plants; driving an average of 37 miles to work.
I continue to enjoy learning about different sectors of the gigantic meat industry and doing home meat processing R&D.